Hundreds Rally in Silver Spring for Furloughed Federal Employees

Democratic congressional leaders call for end to shutdown

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Dan Schere

Congressional Democrats headlined a Wednesday night rally attended by 200 people at the Silver Spring Civic Center and demanded that President Trump end the three-week-old federal government shutdown that has left 800,000 federal workers unpaid.

“People are being forced to tap into their savings,” declared U.S. Rep Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who organized the event.

Raskin was joined by Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. John Sarbanes and Virginia Reps. Don Beyer and Abigail Spanberger. A number of local elected officials, furloughed federal employees and other union leaders also attended.

Van Hollen criticized Trump and Republicans in Congress for “holding government workers hostage” over the president’s demand for $5 billion in funding for the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Every day Republican senators are complicit in the shutdown,” Van Hollen said.

The rally took place hours after Trump walked out of an attempted negotiation with congressional leaders at the White House, which he called a “total waste of time,” a tweet.

Prior to the rally, Van Hollen told reporters that Trump’s abrupt exit from the meeting was a “very bad sign.”

“We are sorry about this shameful shutdown. Donald Trump said he would be proud to shut down the government, and now he’s done it,” he said.

Asked what type of border security he supported, Van Hollen said there are already enough barriers in place, and noted that border patrol agents, as federal employees, are also being unpaid due to the shutdown.

“This issue’s not about whether we need a secure border,” he said.

Raskin said in an interview after the event that he wasn’t sure whether his Republican colleagues are willing to speak out strongly against Trump, but thanked John Walsh, his Republican opponent in last year’s general election, for attending the rally.

Neither Van Hollen nor Raskin indicated that they were optimistic about the shutdown ending soon. The congressman, whose district includes much of Montgomery County, noted that the county has about 80,000 federal employees and that constituents affected by the shutdown he has spoken with are “completely outraged.”

“They’re super stressed about what this means for their families and their finances, not being able to pay their mortage or medical bills or daycare.”

David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents 700,000 workers, told the crowd that the average government employee makes $500 per week.

Ken Myers, of Burtonsville, a National Archives employee who helps catalog motion pictures, said he has been furloughed since the shutdown began Dec. 22. His vacation, scheduled for the last two weeks of 2018, was canceled.

“I’ve been OK for now, because I’m financially set, so if it doesn’t go too long I’ll be Ok. But if it goes to the end of the month, I’m not sure what’s gonna happen,” he said.

Myers has been furloughed each time the government has been shut down in the past year, due to the lack of funding for the Smithsonian museums. He said shutdowns make it difficult to plan anytime he wants to do anything leisurely.

“I can’t make any plans in the spring. If there’s a ticket sale it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Myers said he hasn’t considered leaving the federal government for another job yet, however, because he enjoys the work.

“I like the job so much. It’s really hard to imagine that. It may get to that point, but I honestly always imagined I’d retire with the government … You find notes about pieces of film from people who retired years ago, and I want to be leaving those same notes to somebody else when I retire,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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